The Covenant (DVD)

To save the future, they must battle their past.

Kevlar-obsessed filmmaker Renny Harlin (The Long Kiss Goodnight) trades in his usual love of hardware for some supernatural thrills in The Covenant. Does this tale of a hidden mystical power and the few people who wield it fill the screen with magic and wonder, or should this covenant have stayed a secret?

No one knows what the power is or where it came from, but for generations, this power has been passed down through the bloodlines of four prominent and wealthy families. Because their ancestors had been accused of witches for using this power, the families made a covenant to always keep the power a secret, no matter what.

At a posh private school, the four boys who currently wield the power are known as the “Sons of Ipswich,” and they’re the most popular guys around. The oldest, Caleb (Steven Strait, Sky High), is about to turn 18, when he will “ascend,” making him even stronger with the power.

Caleb has more important things to worry about, though, such as his budding romance with the pretty blonde outsider Sarah (Laura Ramsey, She’s the Man). But when Caleb senses that someone is using vast amounts of the power, he knows something is wrong. Is one of his fellow “Sons” out of control, or has someone outside of their families learned to harness the power?

If you want special effects, The Covenant delivers. If you want anything else at all from this movie, you’re pretty much out of luck. Here we have flying cars, eerie shapes floating around the fog, creepy-crawly spiders crawling all over half-naked girls, super powered teens fighting it out with telekinesis, explosive lightning strikes, and balls of energy blasting through the air and destroying everything in sight. That’s all well and good, but if you want a coherent story to go with your kickass effects, that’s when you’re in trouble.

First, I’m having a lot of trouble sorting out the back story here. We’re told that no one knows where the power came from, but there sure is a lot of knowledge about it. There’s the “Book of Damnation,” which chronicles the history of these powered families, and there’s an incredibly simplistic ritual involving transferring the power from one person to another. But, if no one knows what the power is, where does all this knowledge come from? There’s a lot of talk about how using the power can be addictive, and how using it comes with a dangerous price, such as speeding up one’s aging process. Having great power but knowing you can’t use it without disastrous results could have made for a fascinating conflict in a story like this. Instead, these themes are only mentioned a few times, and not explored as richly as they could have been.

I’ll admit that the above concerns are just nit picking. Even more confusing is the question of what the power can and can’t do. Seems the answer is “Whatever the filmmakers want.” There aren’t any clearly defined rules for how the power does and doesn’t work. A character wants to turn invisible in order to spy on a pretty girl? Sure, why not. Want to make the villain scarier by having him summon dozens of icky spiders out of nowhere? Go for it. Want a big, explosive finale with two enemies flying through the air releasing CGI fury on each other? Yeah, that’ll look great on the trailer. If, instead, the creators decided that the power consists of specific abilities X, Y, and Z, it might have limited them and their crazy ideas, but it would also have made for a better story by giving the characters some limits. This way, our heroes might have to think their way out of problems sometimes, instead of just blasting their way through them.

Yeah, I know. It’s a fine line to walk—if too much is revealed about the power it loses its mystique, but if not enough is explained, it confuses audiences. I could be a lot more forgiving about the ambiguities of the power if only the dialogue and character development were punched up more. Instead, we’re treated to bland characters and some of the clunkiest, most cliché ridden dialogue I’ve heard in a long time. At one point, when the villain has the hero’s girlfriend captured, he says to the hero, “Whether she lives or dies is entirely up to you, my friend.” I mean, really, who talks like this? I expected Auric Goldfinger and Ernst Stavro Blofeld to walk through the door and say, “Whoa, kid, tone it down a little.”

Steven Strait is the “Captain America” of the film, the staunch good guy who always does the right thing. This means that his character come across as a little dull, unfortunately. There are a few times, especially when dealing with his odd and secretive family, when he lets his guard down and we see some of his humanity shine through. Laura Ramsey might be perspiration-inducingly gorgeous, and her willingness to appear in so many scenes in partial states of dress is enthusiastically applauded, but I found her acting here pretty flat. She goes through the usual steps of looking scared during the scary scenes and looking all smiley during the romantic scenes, and yet I never really felt invested in what she might be thinking or feeling. Her character should be the emotional heart of the film, but I’m afraid Ramsey never really reached that goal.

The picture quality here tends to be a little on the soft side, but I’m guessing that was the filmmakers’ choice, given the movie’s mostly blue and grey color scheme. This disc features both a widescreen and full frame version of the film. The widescreen is the movie’s intended aspect ratio, so I recommend sticking with that one. Renny Harlin delivers a commentary packed with information. He talks a mile a minute about all aspects of the movie’s production, and it’s a great listen. The featurette on the disc is similarly packed with information, despite its brief running time.

Despite my kidding about the whole Kevlar thing, I actually like Renny Harlin quite a lot. He’s got a great eye, and he knows how to put together some exciting set pieces. Even when some of his films aren’t all that hot, each one usually has a scene or two worth remembering. There are a few of these in The Covenant, just not enough to make a completely satisfying film.

I wanted to love this movie, I really did. I wanted to feel the excitement of an action-packed supernatural good versus evil flick, but instead I walked away from it thinking about what didn’t make sense and what could have been better. Allegedly, a sequel is the early stages as of this writing, and I hope the filmmakers can work out the kinks and improve on what’s started here.

The Verdict

If only I could give this one a “not guilty for effort,” but I can’t. Guilty it is.

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